Essay: Ideological Analysis of Amores Perros

Amores Perros (Alejandro González Iñárritu, Mexico, 2000)


    Amores Perros conveys the patriarchal, conservative ideological conventions that permeate Latin American society.  Iñárritu does this through the form of the film — its cinematography, editing, and mise-en-scène — and through his use of the conventional tropes of tragedies, dramas, and thrillers. Amores Perros portrays the different layers of life in Mexico by addressing three separate stories that are eventually linked together through a cataclysmic car crash. 

    The first segment of the film revolves around Octavio and Susana. Susana is Octavio’s sister-in-law; however he is in love with her. His brother, Ramiro, is an absent father and an abusive husband. He is only married to Susana because she got pregnant. This already begins to depict the conservative norms that encompass society. Octavio wants to persuade Susana, who is pregnant once again, to leave Ramiro and runaway with him. El Jarocho, an infamous dogfighter, then challenges Octavio to a dogfight after his dog, Cofi, kills El Jarocho’s dog. He accepts and gets involved in the illegal business. Cofi wins every fight, so Octavio eventually makes enough money to runaway with Susana and her baby, and eventually asks Mauricio, the owner of El Sabadaba, to assault and threaten Ramiro. This makes the latter runawaywith Octavio’s money, Susana, and his child. El Jarocho challenges Octavio to a private fight as he is tired of losing to him. Since Octavio no longer has any money, he accepts, but when he wins once again, El Jarocho shoots Cofi, which motivates Octavio to stab him in the stomach. This leads to the car chase that ties the triptych together. 

    The title of the film clearly emphasizes the symbolic importance of the dogs. They reflect their owner’s personas. Cofi starts off as a pet. Throughout the course of the movie; however, he turns into an aggressive, murderous animal. This parallels the evolvement of Octavio. His character degrades as he begins to aggressively act on his lust for his brother’s wife, sends people to harm his brother, and eventually ends up stabbing El Jarocho. The dog is a symbol of the dangerous machismo that society posits as the norm.

    The film’s mise-en-scène aids the conveyance of the gender norms that are prevalent in Mexican society. The dichotomy of the public versus the private sphere is revealed through the settings. The women in this film are mostly relegated to private, domestic spaces where they can fulfill their reproductive roles. Propagating the idea that women are not expected to do the same as men, the male characters are shown in the public sphere asserting their masculinity through their work: dogfighting and robbing. This puts an emphasis on the underlying societal norms in Mexico. The idea of manliness and the reinforcement of traditional, potent “macho” qualities are put on the foreground.  Certain props also shed light on the sexist ideology that is embedded in the society. For instance, Octavio, who is shown to be less “macho” and less forceful towards Susana in the beginning, though he does eventually force his feelings onto her, is shown to have a provocative poster of a woman in his room. This further emphasizes the patriarchal values that imbue the diegesis. Women are aesthetic objects for the men. In order for masculinity to prevail, a submissive femininity is required. The assertion of masculinity requires the rejection of femininity. A powerful woman cannot coexist with a powerful man. 

    Towards the beginning, there is a scene where Susana and Octavio are eating in the kitchen. Ramiro walks in and begins to reprimand his wife. He insults her because she has damaged his uniform by washing it with bleach. Here, his uniform is a metaphorical prop that is representative of gendered power relations. Susana is expected to do all the domestic work perfectly to please her husband, while he must work to provide for his family. The staging and social blocking also reinforces a lot of these systemic values. For instance, the baby is almost always close to Susana. Even when her and Octavio are intimate, her child is shown in the same frame. It is a constant reminder of the social expectations of women in relation to motherhood. Ramiro, on the other hand, is rarely shown close to the child. His manliness would be compromised if he were to show parental emotions. 

    The color red, which is frequently linked to violence, is an obvious motif in this film. The lighting in Ramiro’s room is a deep red, while that in Octavio’s room is blue. This color palette plays with the idea that Ramiro is more violent and “macho" than his brother. When Octavio is first shown in his house, he is wearing a blue t-shirt with a few red stripes. Although he has some hints of violence and machismo embedded in his persona, he is not as “manly" as the patriarchal system expects him to be: Octavio cares about his the well-being of Susana and her baby. As the movie progresses; however, we begin to see him wear more red clothing in certain scenes, like when he interrupts Ramiro and Susana’s sexual encounter and then aggressively forces himself onto her. When Octavio meets with the owner of El Sabadaba and decides to begin to participate in the dog fights, he is wearing a red jacket that has a few blue stripes. In order to win Susana, he has to become more manly, and his engagement in the harrowing blood sport is a way for him to secure this manliness. During the first fight against El Jarocho, Octavio is once again wearing mostly blue, but he also has a red beanie on. Although he is beginning to become more violent, he is still worried for the well being of Cofi. When Octavio asks Mauricio to assault Ramiro, he is wearing a solid red t-shirt. This is the moment in the film when his machismo is most blatant, apart from when he stabs El Jarocho. Through the costuming, the film manages to convey theconservative ideology of the patriarchal system that underlines the social structure of not only the diegetic world, but of other existing societies as well. At the end, when Octavio is going to get on the bus to Ciudad Juarez, he is wearing solely blue. A close-up shot of his face shows him begin to cry. This is a subjective point of view shot that evokes the idea that Octavio is saddened by the realization that he has completely lost any chances of being with Susana. His moments of “pure" masculinity have lead to his downfall. Violence was the demise of Ramiro, too. This is highlighted by the presence of red lighting at his funeral. Due to the immorality of all three of the main characters of this segment of the film, they are all eventually punished. Ramiro was an adulterous and abusive husband and a criminal, so he is shot in the end. Susana cheated on Ramiro too, so she is left as a young, pregnant widow. Octavio’s involvement in illegal activities leaves him completely alone, without Cofi, his friend, and Susana. The absence of a happy ending, which is a conventional trope used in tragedies, reinforces the idea that following the conservative, patriarchal social structure is the only way to secure a decent life. If Octavio had not betrayed his brother, he would still be alive, so Susana would not be a single mother, and Octavio would still have his friend, who died in the car accident, and Cofi. However, this is also something that the film ironizes through its depiction of the dismal lives each of these characters lead.

    When Susana is shown to enter the kitchen where her mother in law is cooking, for the first time in the film, she is framed by the door. This frame within the frame of the screen, is symbolic of her entrapment in the household space. The movement of the camera mirrors the disparity of the spaces men and women inhabit. In the scenes where the dogfights take place, for instance, the cameratends to move unsteadily, while it is generally very still and stabilized during scenes that are shot inside households. The men are expected to express their masculinity through violence andaggressive sexual drives, whereas women are expected to be nurturing, submissive, and, ultimately, “domesticated”. 

    Amores Perros consists ofmany closeup shots and medium shots, while it features very few long shots. This draws attention to the corporeal aspects of the characters, shedding light on how physical qualities influence the creation patriarchal gender norms. Susana’s body is to blame for her entrapment in domestic spaces. She is unwillingly pregnant for the second time. Her baby and her pregnancy confine her to the limits of her house. Her body and her womanhood prevent her from leaving herabusive husband and from pursuing her education. Her body is completely exposed in the scene of her sexual encounter with Octavio. Closeups of his interaction with her body sexualize her femininity. Her body is a prop for Octavio. We then see his reflection in the mirror. This shot of him looking at himself while he touches her exemplifies the power he, as a man, has over her.

    Eventually, in a montage, we are shown that dogfights have become part of Octavio’s routine due to his longing for Susana. This montage features chaotic cuts back and forth from scene to scene, underscoring more of the gender role constructs that prevail in society. Closeups and medium shots of Octavio show him satisfactorily watching his dog fight others. The violence does not faze him. His machismo is reinforced through his involvement in the illegal blood sport. The montage also features shots of Ramiro robbing multiple different stores and engaging in adulterous, heterosexual relations. This, once again, highlights patriarchal values. In this sequence, Susana is still only shown in the household. The framing focuses in on her tending to Cofi’s wounds, emphasizing on the nurturing qualities that are expected from women. There are reoccurring closeups of the money that Octavio and Ramiro make through their respective illicit “jobs”. They make the money in order to support Susana. As men, they are socially obliged to be the breadwinners, while Susana must remain in the household with her child. The money symbolizes power dynamics as well. Susana is not interested in Octavio until he begins to provide for her financially. Her husband does not do so; therefore, he is not complying with his social duties as a man. This compromises his masculinity and puts Octavio on a pedestal. However, Susana is still shown to be hesitant about leaving her husband for her brother-in-law. Despite the fact that her husband is not faithful to her and constantly, violently castigates her, she feels morally pressured into staying with him. This highlights the double standards that patriarchal systems are saturated with and are, ultimately, based on. 

    The cinematography and mise-en-scene of Amores Perros evidently reinforce the patriarchal ideological values that are expressed in and through the film. Through Iñárritu’s incorporation of symbolic staging, sets, costumes, framing, and camera movement, he highlights the conservative gender relations and power dynamics that are the foundation of Mexico’s society. The aesthetic qualities of the film reinforce the importance of these societal norms yet they also ironize and refute them through the absence of a positive resolution to Octavio and Susana’s story. Amores Perros emphasizes the dilemmas that gender inequality propagates.